The Busy Child

Just as more and more adults today are proudly wearing the badge "BUSY," so are more and more children.  Too busy to stop, engage with others, listen, observe, pay attention, reflect, imagine, or properly rest.  Those kids are missing a lot.

Today we think we have to multi-task, be on the go, and push to have a valuable life.  We teach our children that they have to do the same – reach for the proverbial stars, or be doomed to a second-rate existence.  

We use social media to advertise our successes, making sure our activities, achievements, vacations, and celebrations will be envy-worthy.  What a false and dangerous pursuit.  As a result we're anxious, acquisitive, insecure, and unsatisfied.

Do yourself and your family a huge favor.  Resist the pressure to let your schedule become non-stop hectic.  Let minimalism help you decide what you really value, so you can limit your commitments and your child's commitments to what's truly important.

Aren't limits... limiting?

By setting limits, you give yourself and your child the space to fully engage in the activities he chooses.

The fear that you or your child will miss out on something is understandable, but ultimately damaging.  Of course you'll miss out.  Your time, money, and energy are finite, so you cannot do everything.

Letting FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) drive your family schedule will lead to burnout.  Such a blur of activity is more tiring and stressful than most children can handle, and it certainly adds stress to parents' lives as well.  Your child will feel more secure if she's allowed a choice of one or, at most, two extra-curricular activities per season, and she'll have a chance to look forward to the days when these activities take place, rather than being on the run every day.

It's obvious that the more a person practices a skill the more proficient he'll become.  Practice is important in sports, music, reading, writing, baking, sewing, handling tools, learning to drive, and all other endeavors.  Only regular practice can bring about improvement.

It's hard to become really proficient at anything if your family schedule is too rushed and cluttered.  A child involved in a different after-school activity every day of the week has no time to focus on acquiring skill in any activity.  This level of busyness also means than homework and family time have to be squeezed into the evening schedule, which makes it tempting to skim over these most important parts of a child's life, or to short-change sleep instead.

Choose carefully.

Even one activity might be too much if it imposes a huge commitment of time. 

Competitive teams that require a lot of travel might actually destroy family life, or cause it to revolve too much around one child and his team.  Watching your child play soccer or volleyball is not a substitute for time spent talking, listening, playing, and building memories together.  Do you really want all family memories to center on the activities of one team, or would you rather remember good times that include sports along with inside sayings and jokes, holiday traditions, friends and relatives, camping and other trips, making things together, volunteering together, worshiping together?

It's also disturbing that repetitive stress injuries in young children are becoming more common.  I recently heard on NPR's From the Top about a 15-year-old cellist with multiple repetitive stress injuries, so even over-zealous music practice can sometimes cause problems.  

It's important to take breaks from organized activities.  The athlete can still enjoy lower-impact options like biking, hiking, and swimming in a non-competitive situation; the musician can listen to recordings and attend concerts.  For the sake of continued physical health and the prevention of burnout, she should occasionally participate in something NOT sports- or music-related.

One major contributing factor to over-training noted by Joel Brenner of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness "may be parental pressure to compete and succeed."  Dr. Brenner adds that when a child participates in an activity not because it pleases him but because he wants to please someone else, he'll never reach his full potential.  He'll always fear failure.

Real success comes from learning how to deal with failure.  Real success comes from improving your skills whether you compete or not.

Real confidence blooms when you're allowed to experiment and find what your interests and talents actually are without pressure to succeed in a certain area or to be "brilliant" at anything.

Freedom of choice doesn't make your child a quitter.

Minimalism acknowledges that childhood is short, and money and abilities are finite.  If a child doesn't enjoy one sport, she should be free to quit and try another.  If she doesn't like playing one instrument she should be free to pick up a different one, or to explore dance or theater or cooking or small engine repair.  

Freedom of choice doesn't teach your child to be a "quitter."  It allows him to gain self-knowledge – to understand what matters to him – and to use his time, talent, and energy wisely.  Eventually he'll find something to focus on with passion.  And isn't that the point?

An activity that inspires life-long participation will bring much more happiness and satisfaction to your child than any number of dust-catching trophies.

Fewer planned activities won't limit your child.  Those afternoons which aren't scheduled allow for other important things, such as:  

  • time to finish homework without rushing.  
  • chances to ride bikes or play tag with neighbor children, providing some relaxed exercise and fresh air.  
  • opportunities for games and other activities with siblings, something that can otherwise become extremely rare as each child matures, makes their own friends, and develops their own interests.  
  • room for freely chosen reading, drawing, and other creative pursuits.

The too-busy child misses out on all of that.

In your rush to give your kids "every opportunity," don't destroy their chance for well-rounded development and a less stressful path to fulfillment and success.

Updated March 2023


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